What is the community's stance on people asking homework questions on the site?

There was a recent question that got me thinking about the issue; this question seems like a blatant copy & paste from a homework assignment, complete with multiple choices. There was no mention of it being homework (in the question body or tags).

Stackoverflow has had issues with this, and that community has adopted a policy of allowing such questions, as long as the asker is honest and upfront about it (i.e. mentioning that it is homework in the question body or tagging it [homework]). Askers are encouraged to list what they have tried thus far, prior to getting stuck and asking for help. Answerers then will try to give hints, but not answer the question directly.

It seems like a similar policy would make sense here, at least to me.

Another question, which could have been a homework question, was tagged as being from the GRE. In my opinion, the fact that the asker was upfront about the quesiton's source, and what, exactly, he/she was confused about, made this a good question. The first question does not strike me as particularly good.

Thoughts?

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I like the idea of having a similar policy to SO. –  Chris Dwyer Oct 1 '10 at 19:35
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1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Draft, based on the StackOverflow policy

This is an attempt to reconcile two extreme positions in a way that is acceptable to the majority of the community:

  • Some might feel it's irrelevant that it's homework:
    we should always provide a complete answer.

  • Others might feel this site is not the place for homework:
    we should close all homework questions immediately.

This post is not the official position of this site's administrators, but rather a community-edited effort to provide clear guidelines on how to respond to homework. Individual community members can of course use their own judgment.

The guidelines outlined below are rooted in two principles:

  • It is okay to ask about homework.
    For one, it would be impossible to stop it all even if we wanted to. English Language and Usage exists to provide a standard repository for English-related problems, both simple and complex, and this includes helping students. Secondly, an answer to a homework question might turn out to be useful to a greater audience in a different context.

  • An answer that doesn't help the student learn is not in their own best interest.
    Therefore you might choose to treat homework questions differently from other questions.

Asking about homework

  • Make a good-faith attempt to solve the problem yourself first.
    If we can't see enough work on your part, your question might be voted down and closed.

  • Ask about specific problems with your existing approach to answering the question.
    If you can't do that yet, try doing more of your own work first or searching for more general help.

  • Admit that the question is homework.
    Trying to hide it might just get the question closed faster. Do this by mentioning that it is homework in the question text. The "homework" tag, like other so-called meta tags, is now discouraged.

  • Be aware of school policy.
    If your school has a policy regarding outside help on homework, make sure you are aware of it before you ask for help on English Language and Usage. If there are specific restrictions (for example, you may receive some help, but not complete answers), include them in the question so that those providing assistance can keep you out of trouble.

  • Never just copy answers you don't understand.
    It definitely won't help you later (after school, in later assignments, on tests, etc.) and it could be, at best, very embarrassing if you are asked to explain or expand on the answers you turned in.

Answering homework questions

  • Try to provide explanation that will lead the asker in the correct direction.
    Genuine understanding is the real goal for students — though trying to provide that is usually appreciated for any question.

  • It's usually better not to provide a complete answer if you believe it would not help the student. You can provide a few hints first, and, in the spirit of creating a useful resource, you may come back after a suitable amount of time and edit your response to include more complete information. This way, the student still has to write their own answer, but a full solution can still become available after the assignment has ended.

  • Don't downvote others who answer homework questions in good faith, even if they break these guidelines. It's not always obvious at first glance that a question is homework, especially when you're not expecting to see it here. It is a good idea to suggest editing the response in a comment.

  • Don't ridicule a student just because they haven't yet learned something "obvious" or developed habits you might personally expect from a seasoned writer. Do add a respectful comment or answer that points them towards best practices and better style.

  • Don't downvote a homework question that follows the guidelines and was asked in good faith.

  • Don't edit a question to add the homework tag.
    If there's any room for doubt at all, it's best to leave it as is. Instead, add a comment first requesting that the asker clarify the situation.

  • Don't edit a question to add the possible-homework tag.

As for non-homework questions, questions in the spirit of "please proofread this sentence" might be closed as off-topic, as per the emerging FAQ. Use your best judgment and consider allowing some time (30 minutes at least) for the asker to respond to comments asking for clarification. Remember that students of the English language — and new users of this site in general — might not yet understand what is expected of them. Help them to get that understanding.

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